‘Numerous’ cases ‘as serious as’ Portlaoise deaths

“Numerous” cases “as sad and as serious” as the Portlaoise Hospital baby deaths scandal are occurring at “other sites around the country”, previously unseen HSE correspondence has claimed.

The situation was revealed in the Dáil yesterday, putting further pressure on the Government to take action against health service managers who fail to act on the warnings.

Speaking during the latest leaders’ questions debate with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin cited a previously unknown email between senior HSE safety personnel about the true scale of the maternity services crisis.

The correspondence, seen by the Irish Examiner, was sent by HSE national incident management team member Cora McCaughan to the HSE’s national director of quality and patient safety Philip Crowley on December 13, 2012 — before two of the Portlaoise deaths.

In the email, Ms McCaughan asks if an “overall” review of obstetrics and gynaecology services is required as the NIMT “is aware of other cases as sad and as serious as the baby Molloy case arising out of other sites around the country”.

Mr Martin told the Dáil the email is another sign that the HSE is “attempting to suppress” evidence of serious maternity service problems, and is indicative of a lack of urgency by management in implementing vital recommended reforms — an issue repeatedly highlighted by Hiqa’s report.

He said the email shows “weaknesses were identified not just in Portlaoise” and that “the bottom line is the one area that seems to be neglected is risk assessment”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny did not address the suppression accusation, but said the issue should not be used for party political reasons.

During a later topical issues Dáil debate, Health Minister Leo Varadkar came under pressure to ensure managers who failed to act on “alarm bells” are held responsible. He said a review may take place led by “overseas” officials as some “do not have faith” the HSE can perform the inquiry.

Meanwhile, new figures released by RTÉ’s Prime Time reveal that the number of birth-specific adverse incidents reported by the maternity units of hospitals in Limerick and Portlaoise rose by 80% last year.

The number of adverse incidents related to clinical procedures rose by 254%.

Figures relating to maternity units in Wexford, Kilkenny, and Mullingar also showed significant increases in adverse incidents.

The Master of Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital, Sam Coulter-Smith, said the figures are concerning and do appear to be quite high “on the surface” but need to be looked into further.

The HSE said the increase in reported incidents at Portlaoise Hospital is due to an improved local IT system and an increased awareness of the requirement for all staff to report incidents.

It also said the figures were inflated because of backlog of old reports were uploaded to the system last year. Prime Time, however, said incidents listed under legacy data were not included in their figures.

The HSE said the number of incidents reported that resulted in harm is less than 2% of the total number of reported incidents. That would mean as many as 30 people were injured as a result of adverse incidents in maternity units in Limerick and Portlaoise last year.

Mr Varadkar will meet with families who lost children and inspect Portlaoise Hospital today, as Hiqa officials attend the health committee. HSE director general Tony O’Brien will attend tomorrow.

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